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Book 7, Chapter 45 - The Winner Decided

 So the Skycloud visitors were challenging Stormford's best?

Whispers of excitement immediately started to circulate. Recently there were a lot of stories about Cloudhawk but in Stormford it was all hearsay. Now was the chance for everyone to see if the tales were true.

Cloudhawk wanted to rebel against the gods? First he had to show if he had what it took.

Charon couldn't wait to get started. "I challenge one of you!"

He was a bristly and excitable man who gave a fidgety impression. However, to reach the rank of Commander-General he had to have skill to back it up. His facade was a way to confound his opponents.

Dawn was similarly itching to try her skills. There was a dark promise in her eyes she only barely held back.

Dawn was not the same girl as before. That was proved when she held back in her desire to murder Frost. Her blood lust was still there, but she had learned to recognize the big picture. She drew inspiration from Cloudhawk, who worked in Abaddon even though the demon murdered one of his closest friends.

He was strong enough that if he wanted to snuff out the beast, he could do so easily. But he didn't. Did he want to? Of course he did, but he held back. He wasn't an unfeeling man and in fact he felt things quite deeply. But he had responsibilities as a leader. They required that he suppress his own grudges for the greater good. And if he could do it, Dawn was sure she could too.

It wasn't giving up. It was biding time.

Just wait, Frost. One day I'll open your throat. And not just you. Abaddon as well. Anyone who hurts Cloudhawk is on my list. Ah yes, and Wolfblade... he's a fucking snake as well. When he has no worth anymore then he'll be dealt with. If I'm not strong enough? Then I'll get Selene to help me.

Dawn always suspected Wolfblade's intentions. She would never be comfortable so long as he was by Cloudhawk's side. Selene had to feel the same way.

Stormford's people gathered round to watch as two young faces joined Cloudhawk. Frost de Winter was a representative of Skycloud's new generation of leaders. Autumn was about the same age as Cloudhawk but since being taken by the Shepherd God, she had not appeared to age. From outside she still looked to be in her early twenties.

Three fresh faces. Did they really expect to beat Stormford's best?

Cloudhawk looked over their challengers. "So who's going first?"

Before Autumn could begin to respond, Frost stepped forward. With an easy leap he jumped into the ring set up nearby for sparring exhibitions. He held a huge spear in one hand that was wrapped in dark energies.

So be it - Frost de Winter would take the first bout.

"Hahaha! This young nobody is so eager to fight me, eh? I could wipe the floor with you one-handed!" Charon's eyes strayed to the weapon in Frost's hands. Despite his harsh words and brazen appearance, there was fear in his eyes.

That relic... that was no ordinary weapon. And anyone who held it had to have the strength to use it.

Frost said nothing. He remained silent, waiting, standing still upon the dais.

He was the perfect representation of a male. A small bit of stubble on his cheeks made him gruff and masculine. His simple clothing was not ostentatious. Cold, piercing blue eyes revealed the faintest trace of melancholy. Young yet mature. He was more attractive now than he was in those early days.

"Good lad! Settle matters first, then we trade words!"

Charon charged at Frost. He punched with his right arm, straight as a dagger. Tattoos scrawled across his skin lit up and all at once his whole arm became a blade of lightning. His power surged.

Assuming Charon Barak was a martial artist would be wrong.

While his equipment was sparse in appearance, he was awash in mental power. The waves Cloudhawk felt marked him as similar in strength to Bruno, making him equivalent to a Master himself!

Frost reacted with a thrust of his right hand, sending Ashfall forth.

When the weapon neared, Charon felt enveloped in a slew of powers he did not expect. Corrosion, sluggishness, and a bone-deep cold swept through him. The strength and expansive nature of it took him off guard.

Frost's newest weapon had been taken from Praelius' Commander-General, Ash Farran. Cloudhawk reforged and empowered it. Wolfblade gave it to his newest disciple. As such Frost's power took a significant leap.

What made Ashall particularly potent was its breadth of powers. Throughout the course of battle, his opponents had to face many different kinds of attacks. So although Charon had started the fight he was forced to withdraw and reassess.

Frost gave chase. The spear in his grip stabbed and thrust, releasing deadly bursts of energy like some hellish viper. Blooms of energy reached from the tip of the spear like lotus blossoms. This dense counter-offensive was almost too much for Charon to escape.

Frost's display was almost perfect, be it his mental force, constitution or combat prowess. But most frightening was that he had yet to reach his full potential. Whatever power he wielded in the future would be hard to fathom.

Charon should have started the fight utilizing his full strength. It would have improved his chances, but instead he'd fallen into a dangerous disadvantage. The more he tried to avoid these attacks the more vulnerable he became. Under Ashfall's continuous assault Charon felt his nerves begin to numb while his limbs grew stiff and heavy.

He was on the back foot, slowly beaten back by his younger challenger.

Ten strikes. A hundred! Five hundred blows from the spear, falling upon the Commander-General like a steel rain. Frost's onslaught sapped Charon of his power and with every passing second his wounds grew in number. He was on the verge of collapse.

Now was the chance! Frost seized it. Ashfall went straight for the older man's throat.

Charon seemed too spent to defend himself. But at the last instant a miraculous change overcame him - tattoos all over his body flared to life!

In an instant he went from physical to elemental. His body of flesh and blood was swallowed up by the light and swelled to enormous proportions. In a magnificent display, the Commander-General became a thunderous creature of lightning. Ashfall's negative influence was shed and in this elemental state, a jab from the weapon did not end the fight.

"Did you think that was all I had?"

Charon released his total power. His earlier display was nothing but a feint to draw Frost in. The younger man could not know that he had walked into this trap. And now that he was in range, there was no escape. It was the right time to strike back.

"Did you have your fun? Now it's my turn! Behold!"

With a mighty roar, Charon attacked with the power he'd been holding back. He focused it all in one punch aimed at Ashfall. The ensuing blast of power felt like a bomb blast. Frost's spear was flung from his grasp.

Delight played on the faces of Fulmulta's citizens. Age won over beauty! Even after hundreds of attacks, Frost couldn't put the old man down. Commander-General Charon only needed to strike once and just the right moment to achieve victory. What did Frost's masterful weapon mean if it was not in his hands to be used?

But Cloudhawk's eyes were narrowed. He knew the fight was not over.

Ashfall whistled as it flew through the air. Frost himself was blasted backward a dozen meters. However he quickly got his feet back under him and there was no hint of worry in his eyes. Rather, something else flashed in their depths.

Charon rushed forward in his elemental form to strike the finishing blow.

Frost was on the verge of being beaten into a pulp, yet at that moment a strange sound arose. Like a rack of weapons clattering across the floor. Ashfall, still in mid-air, broke into several separate relics and scattered all around the grizzled warrior.

"Did you think that was all I had?"

Taunting words from Frost hung in the air and then he was on the move. With incredible speed he dashed toward two swords and swept them up. Spinning around, he thrust them into Charon's electric body. They passed right through, jutting out the other end. Frost left them there as he picked up two more and stabbed them into his foe's back.

In this monstrous form Charon's strength and destructiveness skyrocketed. He was a powerhouse in all but one arena - his reaction times were slower. Countless after-images flashed around him as Frost got to work.

Through his relics, Frost's speed was highly empowered. Pass after pass Frost inserted more of the swords through Charon's body. The older man tried to fight back but was always a few moments too slow.

He'd lain a trap for the boy, but ended up spelling his own defeat. The last weapon to find its way into Charon's form was Rimeshard. Where before there was a lumbering giant of lightning, now Charon was a hunched hedgehog.

He couldn't support the form any longer and the elemental body collapsed. Charon reappeared in the center of the ring. Blood trickled from the corners of his mouth and he fought to keep from passing out.

It seemed like the winner had been decided.

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